Deborah Hastings, AOL NEWS (Sept. 28) — At least 13 African refugees are feared dead after scrambling for food and water while the U.S. Navy tried to save their overcrowded, broken-down boat in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen.
The small skiff, packed with 75 Ethiopians and 10 Somalis, was spotted drifting in the gulf by a South Korean warship, which asked the guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill to help the stranded migrants, according to a statement from the Combined Maritime Forces, which patrols for pirates on the dangerous waters off the east coast of Africa.
As Navy crews in an inflatable craft tried to hand out food and water Monday, passengers on the overloaded skiff scrambled to one side, causing it to capsize. Rescuers pulled 61 people to safety. Thirteen were reported drowned, and the rest are missing.
“They were trying to travel … from Somalia to Yemen,” Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sam Hearn, a spokesman for the Combined Maritime Forces, was quoted in the Navy Times. By sea, the distance from Somalia to Yemen is more than 150 miles.
The Churchill was towing the disabled skiff out of the gulf’s busy shipping lanes after crew members could not repair its fouled motor. The Navy has not decided what to do with the refugees, who were receiving food and aid aboard the Churchill, Hearn said.
The pirate-plagued Gulf of Aden is also home to a growing number of human smugglers who ferry migrants fleeing poverty and violence in overcrowded, rickety boats bound for Yemen, according to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, an Ethiopian man was beaten to death and thrown overboard by smugglers operating a boat carrying 105 African migrants and refugees, mostly from Ethiopia, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.
“The victim had been sitting below deck in stifling conditions and was beaten and locked in the engine room after begging for water,” Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
An estimated 74,000 Africans, mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia, fled to Yemen in 2009, The Associated Press reported.